I Work for the US Census — You Should Be Alarmed

What is happening is a crime.

Pandemic Diary Entry #58

August 31, 2020

I wanted to do something for the civic good during these tough times, so I became a census worker.

I am an enumerator, we are the ones knocking on your door trying to find all the people that have yet to respond. If you haven’t done your census, please stop reading right now and go to My2020Census.gov and fill out your census. Yes it is the law, but there are many reasons you and your community benefit from making sure everyone responds.

My experience has been both an utter disaster, and a wonderful experience. I have had two supervisors who were both dreams to work with. I have been overwhelmed by peoples’ kindness and I am surprised when people thank me for my service. My work schedule, is another story.

I am the first to point out that this is the Federal Government, and absolutely, there is bureaucracy. The largest problems to those of us on the ground is the absolute lack of communication and overwhelming computer problems.

In a normal year enumerators would begin in April and wind up their work in September. Due to COVID, enumerators began in July, but were not in full swing until August.

According to the Office of the Inspector General from the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, more than 300,000 enumerators were needed in August. They fell short by about 80,000. This, while the bureaucracy added two top positions, considered highly political and superfluous.

The present Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, (appointed by the sitting president) was in agreement with Congress over extending enumeration to October 31st. The White House reversed this extension and ordered that all field work cease on September 30th.

What this means is, 2020 census field work will take place over approximately 77 days in comparison to a normal year of about 183 days, that is a shortage of 3 and 1/2 MONTHS.

I will lay the blame for the computer issues experienced in the field, on time. If we had 183 days to work out the kinks, it would not be such a horror, but 77 days to take an inexperienced staff and set them up with a computer system that is full of bugs, is a recipe for disaster.

Shortening the time to perform the census has not only put enumerators in a difficult position to obtain complete information, but it has also forced the census to consider if they can even do quality control on the information that was collected. Quality Control begins as soon as the field work is completed.

The Government Accountability Office, which is Congress’ auditing, evaluation, and investigative unit, has warned in an August report, that among other problems, the Census Bureau is behind in finishing testing the computer systems they utilize for processing the census responses. These computers are the tools used for quality control.

While the Census Bureau put out a memo saying they will be handing numbers over to the White House by the legal deadline of December 31st, it really didn’t lay out how it is going to do so and guarantee the results were of worth.

Four former Census Bureau directors put out a warning saying that not extending census reporting deadlines “will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country.”

It is within Congress’ power to extend the time allotted for both field work and quality control before the census is handed over to the President.

Under the bi-partisan leadership of Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the House has already signed off on an extension. It now lies in a pile on Mitch McConnell’s desk along with hundreds of other bills slated to be ignored and then die.

This is important because, as of August 31st only 64.7% of US households have responded to the census. As it stands, this is the lowest response rate in the nation’s history. Consider that in 2010 there were only 47 million people to count, this year we have an estimated population of 60 million, the return rate looks bleak.

This should not be confused with enumerated houses. The government has stated that 80% of homes, have been enumerated. This simply means we have knocked on their doors, it does not mean we have obtained any information from that home.

The census is not just being cut short, it is being politicized in a very ugly way. Much of this can be traced to the occupant of the White House who has blatantly shown that he intends to side track, and thus destroy this years census.

When the controversy about the citizenship question was settled in a court of law, the president wasn’t finished with his shenanigans. On July 21st he issued a memorandum excluding unauthorized immigrants from the final total.

This is not based on anything but disdain for immigrants and a desire to rouse his base. From the 1790 census to the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment slaves were counted. At that time slaves were considered property not humans, and yet they were counted to give southern states a significant advantage in the house. They were only counted as 3/5 of a person, but if we counted property as human, not counting non-citizens is perfidious.

While frequently debated, it has always been understood that the census should count every resident. The term in the constitution is resident, not citizen, which includes non-citizens who are living in the US no matter how they entered the country.

The latest nonsense has the intent to undermine the political power of areas where immigrant populations have settled, these traditionally lean Democratic. Ironically it will do the very same thing in Republican-run rural areas with large immigrant populations such as Florida, Texas and Arizona.

In the past the Census has used records from federal agencies, including the State Department and the Social Security Administration hoping to find people not answering the census.

This year they added ICE, Customs and Border Protection and Citizenship Immigration Services as agencies that will be reporting.

This is worrisome. Federal Computer Week, found that in a DHS memo the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that, for the first time in history, they are sharing personal information about naturalized U.S. citizens and green card holders from records that go back to 1973. USCIS has been sharing anonymized data on lawful permanent residents and naturalized citizens since 2007.

This is why I feel it is so important to continue doing my job as best I can to ensure that all residents of San Francisco living here on April 1st 2020 are counted. This is not easy. The census is understaffed and running up against an unreasonable deadline.

There were 54 offices that served the state of California for the 2010 census. For the extremely shortened, COVID impacted 2020 census, that number was cut down to a mere 30.

This lack of time and manpower will result in a huge financial loss for the state of California, but there is so much more at stake.

California presently has 53 congressional seats. Demographers estimate that the state will lose one seat when the census numbers come in, due to population change. If undocumented immigrants are not counted, the state could lose a second seat.

We have watched the rule of law be shredded over the last few years, but my anger at the present mishegoss is because it is something that can not be corrected for another ten years.

These statistics are not just used for political and budgetary purposes. Census information provides detailed statistics that are important for a number of organizations and researchers such as myself. Trade associations, chambers of commerce, and businesses also rely on this information for help with economic development, business decisions, and strategic planning. Take that a step further, if people that rely on the census for the myriad reasons that they do, and they know the information is faulty, will they trust any other statistics that are produced by the US Government?

This situation was expressed very well by Thomas Louis, the bureau’s former chief scientist, when he stated that “shortening the time line of the census will severely compromise the quality of the census data to be used for apportionment, redistricting, for policy and economic development, and for research. All these uses and more are key pillars of our democratic society”.

This gross undercount will have ripple effects into the future we can not even conceive of.

Everyone I have had the pleasure of working with has been diligent in their job while being very vocal in their concerns for this years count. We all swore an oath the the United States Government, and while we are trying our very best to honor that oath, there are many of us that feel, the government is not living up to their half of the bargain.

UPDATE: In U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Lucy H. Koh issued a preliminary injunction preventing the administration from winding down the count by Sept. 30, a month before the scheduled completion date of Oct. 31. She also barred officials from delivering completed population data to the White House on Dec. 31 rather than the April 2021 delivery date that had previously been set out.

On October 13th, 2020 the Supreme Court over ruled the U.S. District Court, thus halting the census effective immediately.

Trivial Things

My Horoscope for today: Honor a commitment — even if you don’t think the other party deserves it. Yes, they’ve been flaky but taking the high road now puts you in the lead later.

San Francisco weather: 61 degrees and foggy

NYSE DOW opened at: 28643

NYSE DOW one year ago: 26198

Foreign word of the day: Lunch Box

Spanish: lonchera
Italian: sacco per il pranzo

OED word of the day: ambuscado — Chiefly Military. A positioning of soldiers, etc., in a concealed place, in order to surprise and attack an enemy; the surprise attack itself. Also in extended use. Cf. ambush

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 174

Reading: It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

My Black and White Picture of the Day

Something Silly From the Internet:

My travel blog www.PassportandBaggage.com and my www.ArtandArchitecture-sf.com blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.

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